It's aliiiive!

Look: This landform on the Martian surface is actually moving

Originally Published: 
NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

NASA via Giphy

Mars is not known for being a quiet, still place.

Dust storms, violent weather, and changing seasons mean it’s constantly in motion; in some ways, quite similarly to Earth.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

For a while, scientists thought that ripples on the Martian surface were simply a landform frozen in time, leftover by a past climate.

But it turns out the hills are alive.

Okay, not with music, but they are in motion, migrating slowly across the landscape in response to wind.

Bettmann/Bettmann/Getty Images

Known as megaripples, researchers first reported in 2020 that they appeared to be shifting.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

But it wasn’t until more recently that we found out how widespread — and profound — their movements are.


In late 2021, a team of researchers reported in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets that they tracked megaripple movement on Mars’ north pole.

They found that the structures are moving faster in some areas than previously thought — an average of 9.2 meters in just 22 days.


These observations were made using data from NASA’s HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The images span 13 Earth years, or six Mars years.

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

The ripples seem to move most in the summertime on Mars, when seasonal winds kick up more sand.


“This enhanced activity is likely related to the greater sand fluxes found for neighboring dunes which are driven by summer-time seasonal winds when polar ice is sublimating.”

While there’s much interest in understanding Mars’ past through its static formations, landscapes like megaripples help researchers piece together new information about its present.


“This supports the idea that much of the Martian surface is actively being modified and not just ancient or static.”

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